A bold attempt by members of the Indigenous Biafra secessionist movement to stamp its authority on the Delta State capital of Asaba and neighbouring towns was on Friday botched as the police forcibly dispersed them.
In a related development, the Inspector-General of Police sent a strong warning against protests by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, using dangerous weapons across the Eastern part of the country.
The police also arrested a large, but yet unconfirmed, number of the Biafra campaigners who had allegedly tried to prevent members of the public from freely going about their daily activities in Asaba.
Eyewitnesses claimed that scores of persons might have been arrested at Asaba and Umunede area, where members of the group, believed to be protesting the arrest of one of their national leaders by federal security operatives, also demonstrated on Friday.
Acting Delta State Police Command spokesman, Mr Charles Muka, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), told THISDAY on phone at about 2.45pm yesterday that he could not confirm the number of persons arrested by the police during the clampdown on the Biafra campaigners.
“Well, it is true that we successfully repelled the attempt by pockets of the group to cause a breach of public peace especially around Asaba, but I cannot tell you how many people were arrested because we are still on it”, Muka said.
He advised members of the public to go about their normal lawful business without any fear of molestation.
“We are on top of the situation; people should be free to go to the market or any lawful business”, the police spokesman said, adding that no group had been authorised by the police to engage in protest march in Asaba or environs.
THISDAY learnt that the coordinators of the group had yesterday (Wednesday) gone round many parts of Asaba telling residents to stay away from the Ogbogonogo Modern Market in Asaba metropolis to express solidarity with the cause of the indigenous Biafra organisation.
Some residents on Anwai Road and Nnebisi Road Asaba told THISDAY the group also warned the people to keep their children and wards from going to school yesterday as a mark of support for the group.
Although government and security announcements later advised residents to disregard the threats by the pro-Biafra group and reassured the people of their safety, many people stayed away from the huge and usually busy Ogbogonogo Market yesterday especially in the morning hours apparently out of fear of possible attack by the indigenous Biafra campaigners.
However, as early as 7.30am the police clashed with members of the group as the latter reportedly attempted to block the Benin-Asaba expressway around the ever-busy Summit Junction, Asaba.
Eyewitness accounts said that the police fired severally into the air to scare off the pro-Biafra protesters who appeared determined to resist being forced from the point by the riot policemen.
They said some people had initially thought that the police were probably involved in a crossfire with some armed robbers due to the sporadic shooting and many had to run for cover.
However, a huge smoke from numerous teargas canisters fired by the police soon enveloped the whole area around the Summit Junction as far as DBS Road and Jesus Saves Street junction, forcing people to run helter-skelter and motorists making quick turns from the area at about 8.15 am.
Nonetheless, THISDAY learnt that it took a detachment of mobile policemen to disperse members of the same Biafra group who had barricaded the strategic Benin-Agbor-Asaba-Onitsha Expressway at Umunede during late morning hours and attempted to disrupt the flow of traffic on the road.
Several persons were also reportedly arrested by the riot or mobile policemen at Umenede and Agbor area of the road.
However, a confirmation of the number of arrests by the police spokesman was still being expected at the time of filing this report.
Since the reported arrest of the general coordinator of Radio Biafra (operated by the group), Mr Nnamdi Kanu, by the Federal Government about three weeks ago, the tempo of activities of the group seems to have increased, with the security agencies equally stepping up their offensive against the group.
Meanwhile, the Inspector-General of Police has sent a strong warning against protests by the Indigenous People of Biafra “using dangerous weapons across the Eastern part of the country.”
In a release signed by the Force spokesperson, Olabisi Kolawole, Assistant Commissioner of Police, said law enforcement agencies will deal decisively with the protesters.
The release reads: “Information available to the Nigeria Police indicates plans by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to embark on ill-advised protest using dangerous weapon across some South Eastern States.
“The Nigeria Police Force reminds the brains behind this security threat that the law prohibiting the unlawful possession of firearms is still in-force. Therefore any attempt to unleash mayhem on innocent and law abiding Nigerians under any guise by this group will be met with stiff resistance from the Police and other security agencies, the actors will be brought to justice in line with extant criminal laws.
“The Police therefore assured the citizens in the South-Eastern States of adequate protection, as appropriate Police deployment has been emplaced to deal decisively with any group or persons who might be bent on breaching public peace and threatening national security.